F1 opener in Australia postponed in wake of McLaren withdrawing

Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand has been postponed in the wake of British team McLaren withdrawing from the event after a team member tested positive for coronavirus, the PA news agency understands.

The decision was taken following a crisis two-hour summit involving F1's under-fire hierarchy, its governing body, the FIA, and a number of the sport's team principals here in Melbourne.

F1's move follows the tide of the sporting world after a series of events were cancelled or delayed on Thursday in response to the deadly disease which has claimed more than 4,600 lives.

Lewis Hamilton had earlier heaped pressure on the sport's bosses by claiming they were putting lives at danger with 300,000 fans expected through the gates of Albert Park over the next few days.

A British mechanic was told he had tested positive for the coronavirus at 9pm. A little more than an hour later, his McLaren team informed F1 and the FIA that they were pulling the plug on their participation here this weekend.

The individual remains in quarantine at the team's hotel in Melbourne. It is understood that at least a dozen other McLaren staff are in self-isolation after coming into contact with the individual who arrived from England earlier this week. They are showing no symptoms related to the disease.

In all, nine people connected with the sport – none of whom are from Hamilton's Mercedes team – have been tested for the virus, seven of which have been negative, one positive, and one still awaiting their results.

"McLaren Racing has confirmed this evening in Melbourne that it has withdrawn from the 2020 Formula One Australian Grand Prix, following the positive test of a team member for the coronavirus," a statement from the British team read.

"The team member was tested and self-isolated as soon as they started to show symptoms and will now be treated by local healthcare authorities.

"The team has prepared for this eventuality and has ongoing support in place for its employee who will now enter a period of quarantine."

McLaren will now take direction from the local authorities regarding their next steps.

Earlier on Thursday, six-time world champion Hamilton attacked F1's decision to stage the Melbourne race.

"I am really very, very surprised that we are here," he said during the official press conference to preview Sunday's event. "For me, it is shocking that we are sitting in this room.

"It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late, but we have seen [US president] Donald Trump shut down the borders from Europe to the US, the NBA has been suspended, yet Formula One continues to go on."

Asked why he thought the sport's chiefs and its governing body, the FIA, had pushed ahead with the event, Hamilton, 35, said: "Cash is king. I don't feel like I should shy away from my opinion.

"The fact is we are here and I just urge everyone to be as careful as you can be in terms of touching doors and surfaces. For the fans, I hope they take precautions, too.

"I was walking through the paddock and saw everything going ahead as normal as if it is a normal day, but I really don't think it is. I saw Sir Jackie Stewart in the lift this morning looking fit, healthy and well, and other elderly people, too. I hope the fans stay safe and we don't see any fatalities or anything come out in the future."

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, a director for the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, said that the grid could refuse to race if it was confirmed a team member had been infected.

"If it was to go that far, for sure you pull the handbrake [on the race]," said Vettel, 32.

"We are a group of 20 guys and we got together over the years in various circumstances and I think we share common opinion on big decisions and that would be a very, very big decision.

"We would be mature enough to look after ourselves and pull the handbrake in that case."

Next weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, which was already set to be staged behind closed doors, now looks unlikely to take place, while the inaugural race in Vietnam, scheduled for April 5, is also under major threat. Following the postponement of the Chinese Grand Prix, the season could now start in Holland on May 3, but that is also subject to change.